History in a Can

Wilson1

Just on the other side of the farm field next to our property is an old abandoned farmstead. All but the silo are either completely leveled through time or very near that state. All things are reclaimed by nature over time.

In the early spring and late fall, when the field is not planted, that farmstead becomes an archaeological dig site for my children and I. With a background in history, it’s exciting to be able to teach the kids to look beyond what they see to what they can ascertain about how people lived by what people left behind.

This last fall we found some artifacts in a old refuse pile. An old milk can, some bottles, broken tools, and a rusty can were all lugged home and left on the front step. They sat there through the lion share of the winter. What more damage can be done to it anyway? The good thing about history is the timeline allows you to put it down and re-investigate it when you can afford the time. Last week I took it upon myself to clean up the rusty can.

Upon first inspection I could make out some lettering but not enough to form words. After a good cleaning and two days soaking in a 50/50 bath of CLR and water, we determined that it was a can of Wilson’s Chopped Beef. Here’s where the historian takes over.

Wilson Chopped Beef  Wilson and Company was a meatpacking company from Chicago founded by Thomas E Wilson. Wilson started at a railroad car checker at the Chicago stock yards. By 1913 the industrious Wilson had worked his way up to president of the Morris & Company. In 1916 he left Morris to take over a struggling New York meat packing company called Sulzberger & Sons. The name was changed to Wilson & Co later that year and the offices were moved back to Chicago, where Wilson got his start.

In it’s time Wilson & Co had achieved great success, becoming one of the 50 largest industrial companies in the US. It had a profound influence on the marketing and manufacturing of processed meats that are still on the market today. An interesting note is that Wilson & Co acquired the Ashland Manufacturing Company which dealt in sporting goods. They changed the name of that division to Wilson Sporting Goods. Yes, THAT Wilson Sporting Goods. It seems an easy transition for a meatpacking company to also make use of the hides for ball that would later be the best friend of a shipwrecked Tom Hanks character.

Wilson died in 1958. In the 60’s Wilson and Co was bought and that ends the short history of Wilson and Co, the manufacturer of the meat that was consumed by the farmer. Being from Minnesota, it seems odd to find a surviving Wilson’s can when Hormel is such a big influence with it’s world renown SPAM. Still, competition in the canned meat business post WWII was fierce and varied with many producers duking it out on a national scale for dominance. There was a time when Wilson & Co were one of the big three Chicago meatpacking companies.

What is the purpose of this little history lesson? Until now, I did not even know about Wilson’s meats or what significance it played in the food industry, how it had been a successful company for half a century, and how it was tied to Wilson Sporting Goods.  All this because we picked up a rusty can in a pile of someone’s garbage in the middle of the woods. Fascinating!

Wilson2

 

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Our Tiny Home Experiment – Chapter 1 : Planning is so VERY Important

board

While the weather has been a typical February in Central Minnesota(cold and windy), the planning for our spring build tiny home is heating up. Even if the end product only remotely resembles the original plan, the plan itself is a very important cog in the process.

Dreaming about what you want to build is nice and airy, but drawing up a plan will make it real. That is what we have been working on this week. After searching the internet of available floor plans, we have found one that we think we can develop with our own style and needs in mind.

There really isn’t a lot of variation when your size limit is a 7×10 single axle trailer. There is even less if you want a wet bath and toilet. Include a kitchen area and a common great room and then you have to put the bed up top in a loft. That virtually eliminated my dream of a gypsy wagon styled design. Sigh. Oh well, a traditional rafter supported roof will give us more headroom in the loft area anyway. A gambrel roof is still a possibility.

Keeping the gross weight at 4000 pounds so as to not destroy the trailer will keep us mindful of light weight building materials and equipment to outfit the inside.

Some things to consider:

  • Should we invest in a composting toilet? They are pricey but they significantly reduce the requirement for septic access.
  • What material would be ideal for the roof and siding?
  • How much space and expense would it cost to be full solar?
  • Gray water storage from the sink and shower?

Settling on a design will help bring all these options and their respective costs to light. It seems so much easier when someone else gives you directions, but this is much more rewarding. What do you think about the questions raised? Or do you have any other ideas that might help in this planning process? We welcome your input. April/May will be here shortly and that is time for action.

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Hidden Diner: A Review of Old Capital Tavern

Old Cap 2

The Old Capital Tavern, located on Benton Drive in Sauk Rapids, MN attempts to bring class and swagger to an otherwise pedestrian dining landscape. While it definitely has some outstanding strong points, it suffer from some fundamental weaknesses which undermine a truly enjoyable dining experience. I’ll break down their strengths and weaknesses, as I see them, from top to bottom.

The Old Capital has some serious bar machismo. It’s whiskey selection is a sparkling jewel in pile of locally quarried St Cloud Gray granite, boasting one of central Minnesota’s widest assortment of whiskey varieties under one roof. Their selection of tapped brews is diverse enough to keep a micro-brew aficionado’s palette sated. If bourbon, scotch, or beer are not your thing(or you simply detest the natural George Thorogood connection), then I am sure that they can certainly mix you up one heck of a tasty foo-foo drink too. The Old Capital Tavern is definitely not lacking in the bar side of the business.

Give them credit for turning an under used main street styled retail storefront into a warm and inviting place to eat and drink. Wood and contemporary tile and iron work certainly give Old Capital Tavern an upscale look and feel. A staircase in the back of the main floor dining area ascends to a small six table mezzanine level that overlooks the whole of the building. This is the ideal place to eat in my book if only because you get a close up look at the classy tin tiled ceiling and a birds-eye of the traffic below.

Real honest specials are what I look for. Just knocking a couple bucks off a regular menu item every Monday night does not a special make. The special on the night we ate there was locally caught  battered Minnesota walleye served on a pretzel hoagie bun with Gorgonzola(?) cheese and salad greens with battered french fries and we also ordered the Cuban sans the pickled giardiniera veggies for the kids because they did not have ANY kids menu items.

The overall food quality was a little underwhelming but I know I was expecting too much. The walleye and bun were very greasy(The battered fries were the least greasy item at the table). I would imagine the Cuban would have been much better with the pickled giardiniera veggies so I won’t fault them for that. There just wasn’t any pizzazz to either meal. The portions were decent sized  so definitely come hungry. Just remember to ask for another napkin unless you like sloppy fingers.

If I was to knock anything seriously from the Old Capital Tavern experience, it would have to be on the service side of things. Upon walking into the building, the first thing you notice is there is no waiting area, host/hostess station, or even a sign that reads “Please Wait to Be Seated”. We almost started to wander aimlessly to an open table until a server walking by, caught a glimpse of us in her periphery, and said, “The host will be there to seat you momentarily.” He was busy delivering food.

A superior restaurant has a steady captain at the helm to direct the wait staff, and, from the get-go, it appeared service was more random than orderly. We were the first people on the waiting list for a table so we had to carve out our own waiting area near the restroom doors. Luckily we found some unused chairs stacked under the stair case that we could pull out and sit on. We waited 20 minutes for a table while there were two sets of three tables pulled together with a “reserved” placard on them. Setting a reserved table is not a bad thing except that we were there for an hour and 20 minutes and those tables stayed open almost until we left. If you consider this was about 30% of their total seating area left dormant during the high dining time, then you know someone was dropping the ball. The long waits continued after being seated.

Our server was not well versed on the menu which definitely points to a need for more training from management. It’s not necessarily the server’s fault if they are not given the opportunity to know and experience the menu enough to be our trusted “expert” on what to order.

As far a price verses value is concerned, the price tag for two meals, two beer, and four Shirley Temples plus tip clocked in at over $50. Given the comparative prices of other restaurants of the same expected quality of experience in the area, the Old Capital Tavern was a little on the high side but not outrageous. Premium items cost a premium. You can’t expect to get premium without spending more on the customer side. That is why there is a Burger King across the street.

A complete dining experience is like a ballet. There are musicians, dancers, and stage hands working together in a well maintained venue to provide a well rounded experience for the audience. If the dancers don’t dance or the musicians are playing out of tune, then the experience is broken. The Old Capital Tavern is a great bar, but has a little work to do in order to be a great dining experience as well.

Now, go out and experience it for yourself. Good eating!

meatloaf

Old Capital Tavern’s Meatloaf Sandwich

 

This review was based on a single, unannounced dining experience. The intent is not to “burn down” any restaurant for their shortcomings but to point out their strong suits and areas needing improvement, and provide readers with a balanced review of an establishment before they dine there. Though this is the first restaurant review I have posted on this site, I have been reviewing restaurants for nearly 20 years in several print and internet publications.

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Our Tiny Home Experiment – Prologue: Imagine the Possibilities

Trailer

During my five year college career, I must have moved no less than 14 times. New experiences, new environments. The key to that kind of lifestyle is only having enough stuff that can be easily packed up and moved by yourself or a couple of friends you bribe with beer and pizza.  Only those things that were most valuable to you were allowed along on your life journey. Where your spirit took you was where you went.

Fast forward almost 20 years. Still moving around? Probably not so much anymore. Whether it’s kids, a spouse, a career, or all of the above, that rolling stone of your youth is completely covered in a thick jacket of moss now. Somewhere along the way we made choices and those choices came with the detritus of a culture of commercialism. See stuff, want stuff, get stuff. This collection of stuff outpaced the purging of stuff and before you know it your house is full of stuff and so is the garage…and the outbuildings…and maybe a storage locker. Here is where our story starts.

For years I have felt burdened by stuff. The things that I kept because there was value to them or I placed value upon them. Being the only child of a borderline hoarding father and a curator/collector mother , there was always a lot of stuff around. Both of them have since passed away and the burden of their stuff added to the burden of our own stuff has finally made me see that less is so much more.

In the last few years I have become intrigued with the tiny house movement because of the simplicity of it all. Using modern technology and a svelte structure to force simplicity on the burgeoning collection of things that will largely be underused, but yet continue to steal a piece of our spirits while we continue to carry their burden of possession. Will we ever pare down our possessions to live in it? Not probably while we have kids living with us, but the experience will help us to evaluate what truly is necessary and needed in our lives to be happy and free.

This series of articles is intended to chronicle our journey into building our first tiny home. As we have a number of friends also interested in this process, we are going to treat this a little organically through social media. Check out our Facebook page and get involved in the dialog on this and subsequent posts because your insight and ideas could very well influence our decisions.

We are waiting until mid-April to start building it, but so far we have this 7×10 single axle trailer which we only spent $300 on.

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Simply Banana Bread

banana bread

Bananas are most likely to be eaten in our house within the first couple days after bringing them home from the market. If afew of them get ignored long enough, they get turned into banana bread. Maybe that’s deliberate in-action on the part of the family, but it’s a house favorite.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2c flour (We use 1 1/4c white and 1 1/4c whole wheat but you can decide for yourself)
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1c shortening
  • 2c sugar
  • 2c over-ripe mashed bananas
  • 4 eggs
  • 1tbsp imitation rum

Directions:

  1. Combine the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix well.
  2. In a separate bowl beat together the shortening, sugar, mashed bananas, and eggs. Mix thoroughly.
  3. Gradually add the dry ingredients. Don’t over mix, just combined.
  4. Finally add the imitation(or real) rum or even chopped walnuts if you like your bread a little nutty.
  5. Coat 2 8×4 loaf pans with shortening and then lightly flour to reduce sticking.
  6. Divide the batter into the loaf pans and then bake at 350° for 60-65 minutes, until tooth pick tests clean.
  7. Let sit to cool before removing from the pan.
  8. Enjoy.

Note: Most sweet bread recipes are very similar. The feature flavor(s) is what gives the bread it’s distinct character.

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Easy & Hearty Ham Salad

ham

We love a good ham. During the holidays, leftover ham can be used in SO MANY WAY. Here’s an easy, but hearty, recipe for ham salad that can either be served in a sandwich or as a cracker spread. It has a lot of texture and a little kick for depth of character.

Ingredients:

  • 2c ham(copped up small or shredded in a food processor)
  • 1c diced celery
  • 1/4c onion(purple is our favorite)
  • 1tsp mustard(Bavarian style is sturdy but Dijon is good too)
  • 1tsp chili powder
  • 1 hard boiled egg
  • 1/4 c hot or hot-sweet pickled relish
  • 3/4c salad dressing(only use 1/2 if you like it less creamy)

 

Directions:

  1. Dice the egg and then mix everything together. Poof! You’re in business.

Note: We like things spicier in this house so feel free to adjust the seasoning to your tastes. We’re just opening your eyes to the possibilities.

 

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